Relation between the Hmong Dress in China and the Wedding Dress in Western Culture.
Updated: May 31, 2021
As a school project, we were given the task and opportunity to see the Textile Society of America (TSA). The TSA puts together an annual learning symposium about textiles in current, past, and future settings ranging in various topics, speakers, and discussions. Sadly, with (virus who shall not be named) still wreaking havoc, it was moved online.
One presentation I wanted to see was called the "Chinese Textiles and Dress". It had multiple speakers talk about different Chinese cultural fabric traditions, whether being slowly forgotten or currently becoming mainstream and produced on a high scale. Below is the list of presenters shown in-order:
Chie Miyawaki, A New Style of Ethnic Clothing: Tradition and Fashion for Hmong dress in China
Sharon Tsang-de Lyster, Life of a Sampler: the significance of the untold and “mundane” in Miao cultural transmission
Tomoko Torimaru, A Compared Study of Miao Embroidery and Ancient Chinese Embroidery: The Cultural and Historical Significances
Jorie Johnson, Huazhan: Paste Resist Felts of the Bai Minority, Yunnan, China
1.1 This is a picture of a traditional Hmong dress with batik patterns, a sev with paj ntaub embroidery, and embellishment detailing-explained further in blog post.
One presentation called "A New Style of Ethic Clothing: Tradition and Fashion for Hmong dress in China" by Chie Miyakaki, caught my attention. I noticed it related a lot to the wedding dress worn by women in western culture today. Although these dresses and the meaning behind each gown is very different, they have large similarities that tie them together.
1.2: Picture taken during Chie Miyawakis presentation
The first thing I noticed about the hmong dress was the growth from handmade to being produced on a larger scale. I find that very similar to wedding gowns today and what they were like even 100 years ago. Traditional white dresses back then were all made by hand and tediously produced for the specific individual it was being created for. Every piece of lace, every fabric covered button was put on with care. This detail was something I noticed and loved about the traditional feel of the hmong dress. I especially loved the colour variations that would appear in a hmong dress and that each dress would be made for one individual, but would take months to produce. Then, with China's industrial rise in the late 70's, those dresses became easier to manufacture by producing them in factory style settings; similar to some wedding dresses made today. The hand made work has slowly lost its relevance unless a family member made one for an individual.
1.3 The modern manufacturing of fashion vs. 1.4 the production of gowns back in 1940. -Even back in the 1950's there were only a few hands in the making of wedding dresses.
Another detail I related back to the wedding dress industry was that the hmong dress is in high demand, specifically for new and different designs. As Chie Miyawaki said in her presentation, Chinese women want more designs that are unique enough that no other woman has the same one as her.
The Hmong dress is worn in a few different settings as Chie Miyawaki puts it, for bringing in the new year, the Hashan festival, weddings, and in general, wanting something new to wear that's fashion forward.
So, with wanting more fashion looks and women buying new hmong dresses every year, demand shot straight up. So, new manufacturers developed new designs and the hmong dress industry became huge. I personally see this really relating to weddings dresses. There are so many women getting married now and buying a wedding dress that a brides final dress choice might not even check off every box. Within the last 5-7 years, there has been a rise of indie designers who have tweaked and formed these new dress creations and have created a new market where brides want to wear these unique designs because no other girl has it.
1.5 Another example of a Hmong dress and reasons behind the growing rate of manufacturing
Lastly, I wanted to discuss the differences between the hmong dress and the westernized "white" wedding dress. One thing I liked in particular was the pop of colours and the intricate looks that were embroidered on the hmong dress that made it "distinctly hmong-ness". It's attention to detail with folding fabric manipulation and the added tassel and lace detail- depending on the style of the dress- is stunning. There is a specific detail called the “sev” which is the belt-like apron that usually goes and sits around their waist. this is what sets each girl apart from the others because of the unique Hmong embroidery that is designed into the piece. This type of embroidery is called “paj ntaub” which incorporated into the piece. You can also tell what background each woman has based on the colours in the sev, the style of their hats, the colours of their outfits, and if the sev is incorporated on any other part of their garment other than the waist/ apron. As a side note, each design, motif, colour used all mean different thing ie. If a woman has a fishhook pattern on her sev using batik patterns, it means she's looking for a husband, If a woman wears a white dress, it means she speaks the white hmong dialect-which is a distinct language from others.
1.6 1.7 1.8
1.6- White skirts are usually sported by White Hmong women
1.7 -A mass produced hmong dress that is showing versatile for different options
1.8- closer look at the sev and the paj ntaub embroidery.
While the westernized "white" wedding dress is usually the classic off-white, ivory, or pearl. They usually come in some form of light white colour but have recently been chowing up in different colours like faint blues, lavenders, and sometimes black. The white dress was usually to symbolize virginity and pureness as a virgin female was to wed a male and lose her flower. The styles of dresses have recently also changed and usually brides pick a gown that best represents them. Although these brides aren't choosing specific styles based on their background and heritage, they usually choose a gown based on how they feel in it and if it suits their personality. I've also noticed a change in weddings dresses and a wider range of options for different brides. style with more sleeve options, more skirt choices, and optional fabric's.
1.9 2.0 2.1
1.9- Designed by Katherine Tash
2.0- Designed by Lillian Wild
2.1- Designed by Anais Anette
The wedding dress is becoming more versatile to its audience which is very similar to that of the hmong dress, which is why its relation is still very similar. This presentation was truly an eye opener. Although Eastern and Western culture may be slightly different, we have evolved in the same sense that fashion, whether traditional or not, is forever evolving in some way and everyone wants the new and improved.
1.2 Miyawaki, Chie. "A New Style of Ethic Clothing: Tradition and Fashion for Hmong dress in China-Textile Society of America". October 15th, 2020. https://event.crowdcompass.com/tsa2020/activity/inFJ54tHfM
1.3 Los Angeles Times. " Fashion brands are making face masks, medical gowns for the coronavirus crisis". March 24, 2020. https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-03-24/fashion-brands-face-masks-medical-surgical-gowns-coronavirus
1.4 Brightest Young Things. "Style licks: this week in Fashion". April 27th, 2011. https://brightestyoungthings.com/articles/style-licks-this-week-in-fashion-39
1.5 Miyawaki, Chie. "A New Style of Ethic Clothing: Tradition and Fashion for Hmong dress in China-Textile Society of America". October 15th, 2020. https://event.crowdcompass.com/tsa2020/activity/inFJ54tHfM
1.6 -1.8 Quora. "What is the purpose of wearing a sev (apron) when it comes to traditional Hmong clothes?". July 19, 2019. https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-purpose-of-wearing-a-sev-apron-when-it-comes-to-traditional-Hmong-clothes
1.9 Image-Katherine Tash Bridal. July 2019. https://www.katherinetash.com/
2.0 Image- Lillian Wild. March 2019. http://www.lillianwild.com/
2.1 Image- Anais Anette. April 2020. https://www.anaisanette.com/